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Lab reports 2008–2011: an index

Between June 2008 and April 2011, fourteen author-practitioners documented over nineteen events from the POV of the stage. The Lab reports were an opportunity for the improviser-musician-performers to explore and explode the processes and practices of music in general, and improvisation in particular. These reports ranged in tone from the oblique, the whimsical, and the matter-of-fact; at times questioning and critical, at times celebratory. Some were short notes of thanks, others shaggy dog stories. Here’re the complete table of contents:

Han-earl Park, April 11, 2011: ‘Lab report 2007-2011: signing-out as curator’

“As previously announced, after thirty-two events over three and a quarter years, I’ve stepped down as curator of Stet Lab as of February 2011.”

Corey Mwamba, December 9, 2010: ‘Lab report december 6th 2010: thank you!’

“It always helps if the other people are wanting to do the same thing and I think that happened—there were some lovely moments where things really came together. I was even relaxed enough to go on the drums—which as I am sure you’ll hear, was a mistake, but a relaxed mistake.”

Susan Geaney, December 6, 2010: ‘Lab report november 15th 2010: let the rant begin…’

“We improvisers dig the ego or can’t escape it. Like a game of snakes and ladders, we chop and change direction every 2–5″.”

Colm Pattwell, November 23, 2010: ‘Lab report october 11th and november 15th 2010: humming, buzzing’

“One thing I want to hear is someone just grooving on something limited or ‘standard’ for want of a better word. For all the different music being played at the lab, sometimes it just doesn’t sound that different to itself!”

Han-earl Park, April 26, 2010: ‘Lab report april 12th 2010: consequences of actions’

“A single quote… can have interesting and problematic consequences for interaction. The effectiveness of the quote—to be able to collapse and redirect and improvisation—is also what makes them hard to deal with.”

John Godfrey, April 23, 2010: ‘Lab report april 12th 2010: kudos’
Han-earl Park, April 7, 2010: ‘Lab report march 8th 2010: 3+1 questions’

“Is ‘success’ (however that’s defined) a meaningful idea in approaching (as listener or performer) improvisation?”

Ruti Lachs, February 7, 2010: ‘Lab report january 11th 2010: get together and make weird noises’

“I played some stuff that I couldn’t recognise as a tune, but the audience seemed to recognise it as valid, cos they clapped, and even laughed once or twice at the funny bits!”

Han-earl Park, January 26, 2010: ‘Lab report december 7th 2009: futzing’

“Neither ‘intentional’ (‘deliberate’ and ‘authorial’) nor ‘noise’ (e.g. the Cagian denial of agency). These things—‘noise’/‘intention’—exist on a line, and it isn’t so much about riding the border between them, but steeping off that line. We want to enter a space that is not about control, nor the lack of it, but about surprises, densities and irregularities; about relationships—differences and negotiations….”

Han-earl Park, November 21, 2009: ‘Lab report november 10th 2009: history and lineage’

“I want, at bare minimum, to be able to play—to have a relationship with the guitar that is technically accomplished—but I also want to want to be heard—that listeners/audiences would seek out my playing and my performances.”

Han-earl Park, November 2, 2009: ‘Lab report october 12th 2009: a conversation with eliza’

“Most of my work in the last few years has been in the jam session mold. People fly in, or I fly out, and there’s an ad-hoc meeting. What I miss is the band.”

Piaras Hoban, October 20, 2009: ‘Lab report October 12th 2009: be no shelter to these outrages’

“low end light a little
“blow tap tap wind
“blow tap tap wind tap

Han-earl Park, July 3, 2009: ‘Lab report June 8th 2009: play different’

“I did have fun, but I think I also realized (remembered?) why I’d been avoiding this particular mode of interaction. It’s too easy; the choices are the most obvious. It’s like movies that, uncertain of the intelligence of their audience, get loaded with too much exposition.”

Veronica Tadman, June 13, 2009: ‘Lab report June 8th 2009: the alarm will sound if you don’t back away’

“So, why was it annoying me? I think it’s because I love control. (Why then am I interested in performing improvisation?) I wasn’t in control of the alarm: one could argue that I wasn’t in control of my fellow improvisers, but my argument to that is, if I wanted to I could have pulled the plug and prevented power. Also as we were an ensemble my input had a consequence on what happened (especially with what Piaras [Hoban] was doing because i was linked to his computer). Likewise he was in control of what happened with my input so it was almost like equilibrium.”

Han-earl Park, June 10, 2009: ‘Lab report May 11th 2009: parking your idiom’

“…I want the listening experience to be rich and interesting. If you’re sharp, you’d have caught it, made connections, and patted yourself on the back for being a clever listener; if not, well, no biggie, hopefully there’s enough complexity to provide ear-candy and (unintended) connections.”

Han-earl Park, May 25, 2009: ‘Lab report April 14th 2009: little instruments’

“My mentors include those who enroll gargantuan complex of musical resources and those who do not. How do I figure in this equation? There are, of course, pragmatic dimensions to this… but nonetheless what are the political/ideological implications of subscribing to one position?”

Ros Steer, April 1, 2009: ‘Lab report March 10th 2009: beginner bassist’s blathering blog’

“Leaving aside any personal taste in the aesthetics of sound, I think it’s more fun to perform together. I don’t mean that the performers should always be ‘in tune’ with each other or mimicking each other but just in tune to each other.”

Han-earl Park, March 29, 2009: ‘Lab report March 10th 2009: the possibility of failure’

“There’s a logic to the… abandonment of safety nets. Their absence can reveal who you are (and might be) without those prothesis. In engineering terms, by removing a component, you can test out the behavior of the rest of the (cyborgian) system…. What I discovered wasn’t exactly wonderful.”

Han-earl Park, February 23, 2009: ‘Lab report February 10th 2009: train wrecks and other fascinating disasters’

“I’m not sure what ‘opposite’ might mean in a musical-performance context (never mind one in which identities and relationships are being (re)negotiated in real-time). Isn’t saying that this (performance infected by agendas, etc.) is not improvisation, akin to saying that polemical or ideological disagreements are not democratic?”

Andrea Bonino, February 22, 2009: ‘Lab report February 10th 2009: on playing and being played’

“In the best moments when music really works, I still have the impression that music is coming through the musicians, and the musicians receive it and transmit it more or less like a radio set… think about that weird and beautiful sound that came out of your instrument almost by accident, and that you are trying to recreate with no success and you get the picture.”

Han-earl Park, January 30, 2009: ‘Lab report 2007-2009: how to run an improvised music club’

“Whether you would want to organize a regular improvised music event depends on what you’re looking to gain from it. Stet Lab, for me, is partly a long-term scene-building exercise; it is, at times, a place of research into the pedagogical, sociological and political dimensions of improvisative practice; an excuse to bring over practitioners whose work I am excited about; and a place to play.”

Han-earl Park, January 18, 2009: ‘Lab report January 12th 2009: healthy disrespect for the comfort zone’

“I’ve been prone to sports metaphors in the past, but Murray [Campbell] came up with a new one: table tennis. A great game of table tennis is not one that you score points, but in which all your resources—your body, your mind, your training—tells you one thing, but circumstances outwit you. You reach for the ball, but it ball heads in a completely different direction. You loose a point, but you go wow, how did that happen?

Veronica Tadman, January 18, 2009: ‘Lab report January 12th 2009: detoxes really do work’

“I cannot quite figure out what was the key factor that made this months Lab stand out above the rest: Was it Murray [Campbell]? Was it the large crowd? The press release that constantly went on about a party?”

Han-earl Park, December 16, 2008: ‘Lab report December 9th 2008: when is a cliché a cliché’

“Are my gestures the same size? are my ideas-per-minute constant? I think, on a good day, on the microscopic level, my playing exhibits (complex / interesting / infuriating / contradictory) variation, but I fear that, on a macroscopic level, it’s often (simple / boring / predictable / coherent) uniformity that rules the day. Am I getting too comfortable in this space?

Kevin Terry, November 24, 2008: ‘Lab report November 10th 2008: mindful auto-pilot nonsense’

“The aspiration for this month’s Lab (though I admit I decided on it less that five minutes before playing) was to play quasi-logically; pick a strategy and don’t budge… So I decide early on… to shadow Andrea [Bonino] and try to limit myself to playing while he isn’t. This is then complemented/complicated by playing pianissimo lyrically when he is playing. This is maintained throughout.”

Han-earl Park, November 20, 2008: ‘Lab report November 10th 2008: out of my depth’

“…By and large, if my adrenaline-choice-machine was doing anything, it was always looking for the nearest, most convenient route, avoiding interesting, circuitous options—the ones that lead off-the-edge into ugly-beutiful spaces and serendipitous-contradictory relationships.”

Veronica Tadman, November 19, 2008: ‘Lab report November 10th 2008: the rockstar wannabes’

“…As the only performer that doesn’t have an instrument that is material to hide behind, I often feel exposed and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable; this has consequently had a knock-on affect on my performance. However, not so much this month.”

Han-earl Park, October 16, 2008: ‘Lab report October 9th 2008: being paul desmond’

“Searching for a way to operate in this group, I was trying to reach Braxton’s Desmond in my musical personality (i.e. carefully considering many choices, but selectively executing only a small number of them). And that’s not a position I’ve tried to occupy in a long time…. It turned out, however, to be an interesting scheme for generating tactics in real-time, if not one that I feel compelled to return to.”

Tony O’Connor, July 30, 2008: ‘Lab report July 10th 2008: consequences of a noisy head’

“Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the insurmountable difficulties of the situation forced my mind to give up and get on with it…. The problem, I think, is that this type of improvisation should be an immediate response, and every time a thought gets in the way, it puts a filter between the event and the response. There are times in the first piece where this barrier breaks down, like the strange antiphony section, but mostly I was just quietly panicking along to my own internal monologue. ‘An E major? What are you THINKING!? Oh great, some more string noise, yeah, that’ll win them over… Muppet.’”

Han-earl Park, July 25, 2008: ‘Lab report July 10th 2008: fitting the square piece into that triangular hole’

“You know… that you’ve lost the game in improvisation when you’re preempting the music. You don’t want to be thinking this is how it should be, goddamnit, and I will fit that square piece into that triangular hole. Much more fruitful is to approach the problem almost like resource management: given our context, what can we do? given our current location, where can we go? given where we’ve been, how we’ve travelled, what exciting places could this route(s) lead us? This becomes a question of possibilities—what we can make of what we have (and who we are).”

Melanie L. Marshall, July 7, 2008: ‘Lab report June 12th 2008: thoughts of a newbie improviser’

“Now I know what goes through a newbie improviser’s head, or at least through this newbie’s head: sheer terror.”

Han-earl Park, June 26, 2008: ‘Lab report June 12th 2008: being the odd-one-out’

“Secondary problem with this strategy: although ‘having plenty of time to think about my re-entrance’ is indeed a luxury, like a lot of ‘prepared means’, they come with Improviser’s Hazard No. 697: exactly when would be a good time to act?”

Eoin Callery, June 17, 2008: ‘Lab report June 12th 2008: noisiest “hoedown”’

“A special mention must be made of the vocal talents of two heavily intoxicated eastern european (they never quite managed to explain exactly where they were from!) who entered the fray at various points. People may say that you could never perform something like Zappa’s ‘Lumpy Gravy’ live—well given the right balance of whatever they were on, they may decide to stage it yet….”

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